Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Ask; Tell If You Want

So after 17 years, despite McCain's whining, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is finally being repealed.

A woman I work with has an interesting take on issues of gay rights. She thinks that gay people should have the right to be gay and even to be in long-term monogamous relationships. She just doesn't think that it's something that she should have to explain to her children. She would be uncomfortable if a gay pride parade went through Bakersfield because then she would have to tell her children what "gay" means. She doesn't think gay people should be able to marry, but that they should have domestic partnerships. The word "marriage" is only for straight couples. It belongs to the religious (she's catholic), and if gay people change what the word means, she'll have to explain it to her children. She doesn't have any problem with gay couples, as long as they keep it to themselves.

I strongly disagree with this view. She has the right to be a bigot (just to be clear, she's a very nice woman, just bigotted on this issue). She even (in our society) has the right to shelter her children from all outsiders and train them to be bigots. She can homeschool her children, only taking them out to go to church, where they will continue to hear nothing of gayness, except maybe to denounce it as a sin. What she does not have the right to do, is have her beliefs enshrined into law and inflicted on everyone else. She doesn't have the right to create a double standard where gay people have to keep it to themselves, but nobody else does. When a gay couple kisses in public, they have not shoved-it-in-your-face anymore than a straight couple doing the same. When a gay man mentions that he has to hurry home, because he has a romantic evening planned with his husband, he has not done anything wrong. If you are offended by this behavior, you are the one that needs to change.

43 years ago, anti-miscegenation laws were making biracial marriages illegal in some states. Imagine replacing "gay" with "biracial" in the above paragraphs. How well do you think those views would go over? "I don't have any problem with biracial couples as long as they keep it to themselves." "Marriage is for racially pure couples."

When I was at my mother's the other day, someone (either my wife or I) mentioned that our minor daughter is growing to be so beautiful, she sometimes gets mistaken for 20. My sister commented on what a shame that was.

Now, I know what she meant. My family is very conservative. If a young girl is beautiful, they do not think she should be proud and show off her body. Above all, they do not think that young people should have anything to do with sexuality. They believe that here should be a concrete wall between youth and anything sexual.

I also know that my wife has dealt with serious emotional issues from being told similar things when she was a child. So I figured I should call this out and see if she could rationally explain why it is that being young and beautiful and looking adult were such horrible things for my daughter. I asked what she meant. And she said she didn't mean anything and tried to drop it. My mother tried to rescue her by saying that "there are a lot of predators out there" and that they were only concerned for her welfare.

I've been trying to puzzle out the connection between the gay rights thing and this incident with my family. I think I've finally got it. They both rest on unspoken assumptions.

"When they kiss in public, or want to serve the military openly, gay people are doing something wrong and straight people are not." You can't get there without one more piece, an unspoken assumption. The unspoken assumption: gay people are different, and what they are doing is wrong in the first place.

"When a young girl is beautiful and adult-looking, it is unfortunate." The unspoken assumption: she's going to get raped, or she will have lots of evil consensual sex as a direct result of being beautiful; if she didn't hide her beauty, it will be her fault when these things happen.

The biggest problem is that these views aren't challenged. When religious conservatives say these sorts of things amongst each other, they are reinforced. They can pass these things off as true. They don't need to state the assumption, because they all know it's true. When they say them in the public arena they need to hear the other side, and they need to be prepared to defend their views. And they need to state the unspoken assumption out loud. Because the unspoken assumption is the weak link. The unspoken assumption is the part that makes them sound like a bigot to the moderates. There's a reason it's unspoken.

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